Cast & Crew
Josef Von Bßky
Marina Von Ditmar
A legendary storyteller searches for the secret of eternal life.
Josef Von Bßky
Marina Von Ditmar
Munchhausen - Munchhusen (1943)
Made for the 25th anniversary of UFA, Germany's leading film studio, Josef von Baky's Munchhausen (1943) is a lavish, escapist German wartime spectacle that reflected the Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' ambition to compete with Hollywood. Costing 6.5 million reichsmarks to produce, it was the most expensive picture up to that time, though it soon would be eclipsed by the still more profligate Kolberg (1945). For that film Goebbels requisitioned massive numbers of soldiers for extras even as Germany's military fortunes were turning for the worse. Despite its origins, Munchhausen still impresses today thanks to its witty script, rousing score and elaborate special effects.
Baron Munchausen (or Munchhausen, as he is known in German), the great spinner of fantastic anecdotes, has retained his hold on the popular imagination ever since Rudolph Erich Raspe (1736-1794) published the first pamphlet of stories about him in 1785. Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Munchhausen was in fact a historical figure, a member of the German landed gentry who served in Catherine the Great's cavalry in Russia and fought against the Turks-as depicted in the film, though with a great deal of fanciful embellishment, of course. The real Munchhausen retired a captain and returned to his hometown of Bodenwerder in 1760, only to be embarrassed twenty-five years later by the appearance of a fictional character unmistakably modeled after him.
Raspe, the author of the original tales, was born in Hanover, Germany. He worked as a professor and librarian there and in Hesse before moving to Great Britain in 1775 to flee an embezzlement scandal. A veritable Renaissance man, during his exile he worked in the mining industry, wrote geological treatises, translated German literature into English, and dabbled in art history. Raspe wrote the first Munchausen pamphlet in English, attesting to his fluency in his adopted tongue; it was later translated into German by Gottfried August Burger, and for a long time it was widely assumed that Burger was the sole author. The original 1785 publication was under fifty pages long; some of the best-known anecdotes, such as the Baron's ride on a cannonball, actually come from later editions. Given such rich opportunities for visual fantasy, it is hardly surprising that Baron Munchausen has appeared on the screen several times. Besides the 1943 German film, other well-known Munchausen films include: The Hallucinations of Baron Munchausen, a 1911 film by Georges Melies; The Fabulous Baron Munchausen, a 1961 production by Czech animator and special effects wizard Karel Zeman; The Same Munchausen, a 1979 Soviet television film that has become a cult favorite among Russian audiences; and of course, Terry Gilliam's manic extravaganza released in 1988.
The author of the screenplay, Erich Kaestner (1899-1974), was a poet, novelist and essayist best known today for his children's books. Emil and the Detectives in particular is regarded as a classic of children's literature and has been filmed several times. Another of his books, Lisa and Lottie/Das Doppelte Lottchen, was adapted into the 1961 Disney film The Parent Trap. During the Nazi era, Kaestner's writings were banned and publicly burned due to his opposition to the regime and he had to publish in Switzerland. Despite this, Goebbels agreed to let Kaestner write the screenplay under a pseudonym-thus early sources credited the script to "Bertold Burger." In 1951 Kaestner published a children's book based on the Munchausen stories, but it should be pointed out that Munchhausen is no children's film. The protagonist is a Casanova-type figure who even meets Casanova himself at one point; Munchhausen's adventures include a torrid affair with Catherine the Great and the rescue of an Italian princess from a Turkish harem. One of the paradoxes of Nazi-era cinema is that despite strict state control it produced a film whose erotic content never could have passed the Hays Office in Hollywood
The director, Josef von Baky (1902-1966), was of Hungarian origin and specialized in comedies and melodramas. Another noteworthy project of his during the Forties was Via Mala (1948), a thriller with Expressionist elements that was banned by the German censors and partially destroyed during a bombing raid towards the end of the war; the missing sequences were reshot in East Germany in 1948.
Leading man Hans Albers (1891-1960), popularly known as "the Blond Hans," was Germany's most popular actor during his lifetime. He also had a successful stage career, working for a period in Max Reinhardt's German Theater. During the Weimar era he appeared in significant films such as Joe May's Asphalt (1929) and Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (1930). His relationship with Goebbels and the Nazi regime was problematic early on because of his marriage to a Jewish woman who lived in Switzerland and, according to some accounts, because of his dislike of the regime, but his sheer popularity ensured a prolific career regardless. During the Nazi era his greatest success was probably the comedy The Man Who Was Sherlock Homes (1937).
Munchhausen was also noteworthy as Germany's third feature film shot in color; the first was the period comedy Women Are the Best Diplomats (1941). The German color process was known as Agfacolor, a pioneering "monopack" film stock-that is, three color layers combined on a single strip of film. Technicolor, Hollywood's leading color process during that time, used three separate black-and-white negatives and special filters to register red, green and blue; it was notoriously expensive to process and required massive amounts of light on the set. The dyes in Agfacolor were unstable, sometimes resulting in significant production delays on the first films that used it-including Munchhausen-but at its best it achieved a pleasing pastel look that worked well for costume pictures. After the war, Agfacolor technology served as the basis (with modifications) for subsequent monopack color systems such as Eastmancolor and Fujicolor.
The F. W. Murnau Foundation, which oversees the preservation and distribution of all pre-1945 German films, conducted the 2004 restoration of the film currently broadcast on TCM and available on DVD from Kino. Due to color fading of the original negative, until recently the best available version of the film was one cobbled together from outtakes. Fortunately, at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin archivists located a negative of the original version that was in acceptable condition and which could serve as the basis of the current restoration. Restoration work included color correction to compensate for differences between interior and exterior footage and digital removal of scratches and other film damage. As a result, we can now see Munchhausen in a form that gives a better sense of its original glory.
Producer: Eberhard Schmidt
Director: Josef von Baky
Screenplay: Gottfried August Burger (book), Erich Kastner, Rudolph Erich Raspe
Cinematography: Konstantin Irmen-Tschet, Werner Krien
Art Direction: Werner Klein
Music: Georg Haentzschel
Cast: Hans Albers (Baron Munchhausen), Wilhelm Bendow (Der Mondmann), Brigitte Horney (Zarin Katharina II). Michael Bohnen (Herzog Karl von Braunschweig), Ferdinand Marian (Graf Cagliostro), Hans Brausewetter (Freiherr von Hartenfeld).
by James Steffen
Munchhausen - Munchhusen (1943)
Munchhusen (1943) - Munchhusen - The 1943 version on DVD
Münchausen is an amusing comedy of manners made much more complex by its historical context. If anything, it's interesting to know that the fanatic Nazi idea of quality entertainment wasn't much different than anybody else's. But it is rather chilling to know that Goebbels personally oversaw this project in his position as head of all arts and culture in Nazi Germany.
As anyone who has seen the wonderful Terry Gilliam version knows, Baron Münchausen is a fantastic gentleman, a great lover, soldier and tall-tale teller. This retelling also makes him immortal, choosing as its starting point the (1943) present where the 175 year-old Baron, still a handsome man in his prime, elects to tell his story. It's an oddly complacent Germany of rich mansions and no signs of war-no uniforms, no bombing.
The Baron's story is a delightful series of tall tales. Not content to seduce every available frau and fraulein in sight, Münchausen becomes a companion for the eccentrically libidinous Catherine the Great, and runs off to war, where he rides a cannonball into the minaret of the Turkish enemy. Thanks to faithful allies and a magic ring given him by a sinister but friendly sorcerer named Cagliostro, Münchausen is able to win his freedom from the Sultan and flee to Venice with another prisoner, a beautiful. Escaping by balloon from treacherous agents of the Inquisition, he and his loyal companion drift to the moon, where every day is like a year on Earth.
Although a tad on the slow side, Münchausen has many clever tricks up its sleeve. The movie starts at an eighteenth-century formal dance, nicely interrupted when a pretty character reaches for an electric light switch, revealing the setting as a 1943 costume party. Special effects do good work with fanciful material, like the blunderbuss with a telescopic sight that can see hundreds of miles, and Münchausen's friend who can run from Turkey to Austria and be back within the hour, with time for a short nap. Simple effects work the best, as when Münchausen's eyes tilt in separate directions to track two objects at once. Multiple exposures turn an important duel into a blur of flashing blades, and an invisible Baron carries a lady out of a harem in the most convincing use of overhead wires I've ever seen¿he even carries her through a doorway.
Compared to American adventure fantasies, Münchausen is a decidedly adult affair. The Baron sleeps with every available female and is kept by the Tsarina for months as her steady bed partner. The Sultan has a harem filled with beauties, many of them cavorting topless in a private pool. Thanks to location filming in Fascist Venice, Münchausen is able to enjoy a romantic interlude with his Italian princess Isabella (Ilse Werner). Sly sex jokes abound, including ripe one-liners about a squeaky-voiced eunuch in the Sultan's employ.
Münchausen wanders the globe but always remains a loyal German, refusing to convert to Islam even though the Sultan offers him a kingdom of his own. He's the friend of all, including hot-blooded Russians and an elderly Casanova. He also befriends Cagliostro, a despised wizard and political troublemaker.
The surprise is that Cagliostro is pictured as a Jewish stereotype, a crook/alchemist possessed of secrets of cabalistic magic. He has a spell that allows Münchausen to voluntarily stop aging, allowing him to survive to 1943 to tell his story. He gives the Baron a magic ring that grants invisibility for one hour. Riding cannonballs is fanciful nonsense but this Nazi movie suggests that Münchausen's friendship with all sorts of people, even Jews, is a good thing. Is it too big a stretch to wonder if Goebbels was trying to influence Hitler not to dismiss atomic weaponry as "Jewish science"?
Even if the designs can't compete with the magical The Thief of Bagdad, Münchausen is a visual delight, with remarkably lavish sets for practically every scene. The vision of the moon has a fanciful Méliès quality, with musical instruments growing on trees and moon people who can leave their bodies working at home while their heads go off in search of entertainment.
Considering its aim was to brighten spirits, this UfA super-production ends on a somber note, with the Baron renouncing his claim to immortality to live out his life with the wife he married in 1900. What the conclusion is supposed to be saying about Germany is unclear, as the fiancées who listen to the Baron's story are a pair of dullards who can't be expected to represent the National Socialist aim for the future of the country. Münchausen has outlived his era and his friends by 150 years, and knows it's time to let go of eternal youth.
Top German star Hans Albers is a jolly protagonist, looking like a smiling Curt Jurgens when at rest and George C. Scott when in the midst of a swordfight. The rest of the cast are charming in their own way, with Brigitte Horney's Catherine a feisty monarch and Ferdinand Marian an oily Cagliostro. The Sultan is played by Leo Slezak, an ex-opera star who became a film comedian. His son Walter was in Hollywood at about this time, acting in anti-Nazi films.
Kino Video's DVD of Münchausen is a pleasant surprise from the German archivists, who have done a good job restoring the film to its muted Agfacolor hues. The copy here is in fine shape, with only three or four angles in the Sultan's palace showing signs of color misalignment.
The extras come from Germany as well. The director of the F.W. Murnau Foundation hosts a leisurely interview docu on the making of the film. There are clips from some other Agfacolor features, including a brief look at a 1944 version of Der Fledermaus. More focused on the Münchausen issue is a curious 1944 cartoon illustrating several of the Baron's more famous episodes in a winter setting. There is also an original trailer, and galleries of stills and images showing how Münchausen has been pictured in book illustrations, etc.
For more information about Munchhusen, visit Kino International. To order Munchhusen, go to TCM Shopping.
By Glenn Erickson
Munchhusen (1943) - Munchhusen - The 1943 version on DVD
Writer Erich Kastner is credited as "Berthold Burger". Kastner was a banned author in Nazi Germany and his books were among those burnt in 1933. For this movie was allowed to write the script but was required to choose a pseudonym. The German word "Burger" means citizen.
Josef Goebbels, Reichsminister of propaganda and also chief of the German UFA-studios, ordered this film to be made for the 25th anniversary of the UFA.
The original premiere version had a running time of 130 minutes. This version is lost.